Down-regulation of neurosteroid biosynthesis in corticolimbic circuits mediates social isolation-induced behavior in mice
Allopregnanolone (ALLO), synthesized by pyramidal neurons, is a potent positive allosteric modulator of the action of GABA at GABAA receptors expressing specific neurosteroid binding sites. In the brain, ALLO is synthesized from progesterone by the sequential action of two enzymes: 5α-reductase type I (5α-RI) and 3α-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (3α-HSD). In the cortex, hippocampus, and amygdala, these enzymes are colocalized in principal glutamatergic output neurons [Agís-Balboa RC, Pinna G, Zhubi A, Maloku E, Veldic M, Costa E, Guidotti A (2006) Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 103:14602-14607], but they are not detectable in GABAergic interneurons. Using RT-PCR and in situ hybridization, this study compares 5α-RI and 3α-HSD mRNA brain expression levels in group housed and in socially isolated male mice for 4 weeks. In these socially isolated mice, the mRNA expression of 5α-RI was dramatically decreased in hippocampal CA3 glutamatergic pyramidal neurons, dentate gyrus granule cells, glutamatergic neurons of the basolateral amygdala, and glutamatergic pyramidal neurons of layer V/VI frontal (prelimbic, infralimbic) cortex (FC). In contrast, 5α-RI mRNA expression failed to change in CA1 pyramidal neurons, central amygdala neurons, pyramidal neurons of layer II/III FC, ventromedial thalamic nucleus neurons, and striatal medium spiny and reticular thalamic nucleus neurons. Importantly, 3α-HSD mRNA expression was unchanged by protracted social isolation (Si). These data suggest that, in male mice, after 4 weeks of Si, the expression of 5α-RI mRNA, which is the rate-limiting-step enzyme of ALLO biosynthesis, is specifically down-regulated in glutamatergic pyramidal neurons that converge on the amygdala from cortical and hippocampal regions. In socially isolated mice, this down-regulation may account for the appearance of behavioral disorders such as anxiety, aggression, and cognitive dysfunction.